In March, based in Philadelphia United By Blue (UBB) had to close his shop like so many businesses around the country. But it also lost 1,200 wholesale accounts, almost overnight, said Mark Cangi, co-founder of the sustainable lifestyle brand.
“Our wholesale business has stalled. We face challenges throughout our business. “
But six months later, UBB has found a new business model that allows them to hire more staff than they had in shops and cafes before the pandemic, he said. And it has nothing to do with clothes. Instead, they provide locally sourced food to Philly residents and in particular, work with insurance providers to deliver fresh food to seniors and at-risk groups.
Although this company listed as B Corp is mostly known for its organic and eco-friendly clothing that is sold online and in its retail locations, UBB also has a cafe where they serve coffee, snacks and simple meals.
In mid-March when all the shops were closed, Cangi said, “It took us a few weeks to pause and reflect. But then we pivot, and we pivot in a way that still makes us a company that is centered on sustainability and equity. “
Instead of ordering eggs and bacon for sandwiches at its cafe, UBB is reorganizing one of its shops to provide the same ingredients – like vegetables, eggs, meat, milk from Northeast farms, but as groceries.
While grocery stores account for shortcomings, UBB uses the same supply chain they rely on for their cafe business to get what the locals need. And then they took it one step further, partnering with Independence Blue Cross (IBX), a local insurance provider, to serve communities at risk with what matters.
IBX and UBB launched a new program in spring 2020 offering four free weekly grocery deliveries to Independence Medicare Advantage members. Each delivery features fresh, local and organic groceries, homemade soups and household items.
The initial program, which was designed for only one month, has now become six months. It targets 7,700 Medicare Advantage members who are enrolled in the Independence Keystone 65 HMO plan and have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and at least one of the following diagnoses: hemoglobin A1c levels greater than 9, asthma, hypertension, congestive heart failure, end-renal disease. stage, or ischemic heart disease.
So far UBB has served 2,972 members and made more than 13,000 shipments, said Maria McDonald who manages UBB’s wholesale program. The new addition to their business model has allowed UBB to turn one of their two retail stores into a fully operational local grocery fulfillment center.
For McDonald’s that previously ran a brand-cleaning program (removing waste from parks, waterways and beaches), this program shows another part of their sustainability story: “it’s about getting everyone involved. And this time we did it through food. ”
He says he views Patagonia, which launched the Patagonian Terms in 2012, as inspiration. “Food can literally change society and be at the root of so many environmental challenges that we face. So if we can do both, that too, when people need it the most, it makes sense. “
For UBB, this somewhat unexpected effort in agriculture and food, said Cangi, will only develop and deepen. “There’s a lot more in Philly we can do. We only reach a small percentage of people here. And, hopefully, we can work more directly with local farms than ever before. “
In addition, McDonald notes that programs like this one are an important step in changing America’s healthcare approach: “The traditional medical system takes care of problems as they arise. That’s a reactive approach. We need to make it more proactive, and the health care community is open to these new ideas. “
United By Blue’s collaboration with the Independent Blue Cross is a one-off, Cangi added. “I don’t think anything like this has ever been done before.”
And that too, by what has long been considered a clothing and accessories company.